It wasn't until five years later, when the carp flags were again flying high all over the city, that Hikaru decided it was time to tell his long-time rival the truth.
"Shindou." Akira caught Hikaru on the rooftop of the Go Institute, leaning against a side railing with his back turned towards the door, looking out into the city's rooftops. The roof was fenceless with shallow railing, and was usually locked—Akira had no idea how Hikaru got access, but it didn't surprise him that somehow Hikaru found a way.
"Hey, Touya." Hikaru turned around, and acknowledged his rival with a friendly wave. "How did your match with Kurata-san go?"
"It went well—I won by half a moku," Akira replied, coming up face-to-face with Hikaru. "I'm supposed to go to an in-depth debrief with everyone from my father's study group, but..." He glanced briefly over his shoulders at the door behind him. "Waya told me you came out here."
"Sorry I didn't stay to watch the full match, Touya." Hikaru smiled apologetically. In the years that have passed, his face had become longer and more mature, Akira noticed. Sometimes, it's difficult to imagine that this person had ever been the sixth-grader, baby fat still on his face, who crushed him at the Go salon while still holding the stone like a beginner. "I needed some fresh air to clear my head.
As Akira settled on the railing besides Hikaru, the half-blond stretched. "Ahhh, Isumi-san has sure gotten stronger, hasn't he? I won against him but he sure made it difficult."
"Yeah, he has…" Akira hesitated. He know Hikaru well enough at this point to know when he has something on his mind, but still wasn't quite sure if he should ask. Especially on May 5—for some reason, every year around this time, Hikaru becomes both intensely focused on go, yet somehow intensely distracted and sensitive at the same time. He remembered the Hokuto Cup, when Hikaru cried over losing by half a moku to the Korean player who insulted Shuusaku. During the entire trip back, Hikaru had arranged and rearranged the pieces on his magnetic go board, looking for a solution. But the way he stared at the board seemed to suggest that he was looking for something deeper than a way to defeat his opponent—as if he was searching for something between the 19 x 19 gridlines.
Hikaru finished his stretching, and leaned his back against the railing, looking up to the sky. "Hey, Touya. Remember how I once told you that I would tell you everything one day?"
Akira looked up, surprised that Hikaru brought it up before he did. "Yes, of course."
Hikaru pushed his back off the railing, and turned to study Akira seriously, as Akira reciprocated the gesture. "Well, I thought that perhaps now is as good a time as any." He grinned. "You wouldn't mind postponing your study session, would you? If I were to tell you about Sai?"
Twenty-year-old Hikaru couldn't help but remember that the last time he had come here with someone besides his grandpa had been over a decade ago, hiding from the rain with Akari-the night he met his ghostly mentor. "Touya, you doing okay there?" He started to call out over the ladder, but Akira had been following close behind, and startled Hikaru a bit as he came up right behind him.
"Whew, don't scare me like that. This place is haunted as it is." Hikaru said, clutching his chest dramatically.
"Seriously?" Akira stared at him, disbelieving. "What does this place have to do with Sai?"
"Haha, I was just getting to that." Hikaru laughed lightly, waving off Akira's dismissal. "Look at that goban." He pointed to the go board in the center of the room. "Tell me if you see anything on it."
Akira cocked an eyebrow at Hikaru, but obliged. He touched the goban in front of him—it's a beautiful high-quality kaya wood board. The finish feels old and dusty, and he could see that it has been there for a long time, but he could not find anything remarkable about it.
"I don't see anything," Akira said after a while.
"That's just it—there's nothing there." Hikaru sat down next to him. His serious tone made Akira pause in his mental calculations on how to yell at Hikaru for making him go on a fruitless hunt to search for something that isn't there.
"But when I was young, I did see something there—I saw bloodstains." He said, stroking the top of the board tenderly. "Right here. And I heard someone asking me if I could hear their voice. Creepy, right?" Hikaru laughed lightly.
"Whose voice was that?" Akira asked. "This is starting to sound like a ghost story."
Hikaru turned to his companion and grinned. "That's because it is. Before I knew it, there was a ghost in front of me, emerging out of the goban—his name was Fujiwara no Sai."
Akira stared at Hikaru grinning face, hard. Is he joking? But if Hikaru brought him all the way out there, he must be serious about this right? But somehow his common sense couldn't allow him to believe his ears.
Hikaru turned back towards the goban, and his gaze softened. "I know it's hard to believe, but Sai was here. Sai was a ghost who loved to play go, and who imprinted upon me." Hikaru paused, and glanced over to see if Akira was following. Akira was, albeit still with a bewildered look. "Sai was a Heian era nobleman who taught the emperor go, but during a match between him and the rival tutor in the palace, his opponent cheated. Just as he was about to bring this up, his opponent accused him of cheating instead."
Akira shifted in his sitting position—although still not quite sure he believed Hikaru's story, he could empathize with Sai as a fellow go player, for whom cheating would be the ultimate disgrace.
"Sai was angry, and lost the game. He was then driven out of the palace, and drowned himself in the river. But he could not give up on go, so instead resided in this goban—until he met Torajirou years later. Ah, you would know Torajirou as Honinbou Shuusaku."
"Shuusaku?!" Akira asked in a shocked tone, but then covered his own mouth. Ahh, but that makes sense. Hikaru was always obsessed with Shuusaku, and played just like him many a time.
"Yeah, Shuusaku," Hikaru continued. "And Sai played many games through Shuusaku—he was already on his way to becoming a pro back then, so could recognize how strong Sai was. I, on the other hand…"
Hikaru traced the lines on the goban and studied the lines, as Akira continued to look at Hikaru to decipher his facial expression. "I didn't know go when I met Sai. I let him play a few times at the beginning—those two times with you. But after I started to get interested in go, I only thought about myself, and how I wanted to play." He looked up at Akira and gave a small smile. "I'm stupid, right? I realized only after Sai had disappeared on this day five years ago, after reading Shuusaku's kifu for the first time, that Sai was a genius. I should have let him play everything. Not just those games on the Internet—not just that one game with your father. Everything."
"Hikaru, I…" Akira started, but didn't know how to finish the sentence. After all, he, too, had chased endlessly after Sai—he, too, chased after Hikaru's shadow.
"That's the time when I missed many, many games, and lost by default" Hikaru continued. "I looked for Sai everywhere—in Innoshima, at Shuusaku's grave, in Shuusaku's old kifu at the Go Institute—but I couldn't find him anywhere. I started to bargain with God, and asked that God bring him back—in return, I will never play a game again." He gave a small laugh. "After all, everyone was never interested in me to begin with—they were just interested in the Sai within me."
That…makes sense, Akira thought. So that's why I couldn't reach him that time at the library. He thought I was looking for Sai.
Hikaru was right, to some extent, Akira acknowledged. But he's also wrong. Even if he wasn't Sai, Akira wanted Hikaru's go.
Before Akira could say anything, Hikaru looked at his hands, and his face turned resolute. "But that was wrong. You tried to tell me that, but I didn't listen. It was only after Isumi-san came and begged me to play a game with him that I realized that I was looking in all the wrong places. As I played, I realized that Sai—the Sai that I couldn't find anywhere—was in the board I faced, in the strategies I used, in the way I played. Sai is in my go."
Hikaru smiled, closing his eyes, then finally turned towards Akira. "So, how's that, Touya? I think you've realized it already, right? That I have two people within me? But how's that for a story?"
Akira breathed deeply, and closed his eyes. His thoughts whirled about him. But he is a go player, after all, and is practiced in placating his own thoughts, is experienced in drawing out a single right answer from a board of possibilities. He took another deep breath, and opened his eyes to Hikaru's still-there smile, looking at him expectantly.
"I realized that, Shindou." Akira said. "I always knew that there were two of you, but now I know why." He smiled. "Thank you for telling me; I believe you."
Suddenly, Akira wasn't sure whether Hikaru was laughing or crying as he buried his face in Akira's clothes. Probably both, Akira decided, feeling a spot of warm dampness seep into his shoulder. He simply hugged him back.
"But I don't really think that it was your fault at all, Shindou."
Hikaru glanced over at his walking companion, who was looking at him with a characteristic serious expression. Akira and him were walking from his grandpa's house to grab a bite to eat at the local ramen shop. The sun was setting—it was getting late.
"I mean, but it kind of is, right?" Hikaru brushed it off by chuckling lightly. "I was a selfish brat who didn't understand the value of my own teacher, who didn't see—or didn't want to see—his suffering. I only cared about myself."
"But that's okay, isn't it? We are all selfish—we all care about go and obsess over it," Akira continued. The warm evening wind ruffled his hair lightly, just like the koi kites on the rooftops above them. "Look at Kuwabara-sensei—even with his years of experience, he still plays selfishly for himself, and continues to clutch onto the Honinbou title, year after year."
Hikaru laughed. "That old geezer really is a selfish bastard." He crossed his arms behind his head, and looked Akira with one eye open. "But not you, Touya. If it were you, I can't imagine you doing what I had done. You probably would have had Sai play much more, helped him bring his genius to the world, and made sure Sai's name was recorded down into the history books—not only recognized anonymously through the Internet."
Akira thought about it. "I'm…not sure."
"Ah, ah. Even if you aren't sure right now, you definitely would have," Hikaru continued dismissively, walking on a bit ahead. "You would have seen his genius right away, and you were always that kind of kid who could see through others." Hikaru laughed. "After all, you were the only one who saw the Sai in me."
Akira stopped in his tracks. "Hey, Shindou."
Hikaru stopped and turned around. "Yeah, what's up?"
"You don't know me as well as you think you do," Akira said, his shadows growing taller as the sun is setting behind him. His brows were furrowed. "I was also selfish when I was young."
"Seriously? Touya Akira was selfish?" Hikaru asked in a joking tone. "I don't really believe that for one second."
"I'm serious, Shindou," Akira continued. "I wanted to play go—even if it meant I isolated myself from the kids my own age, even if my skills made them feel bad. I wanted to continue and become better and better, even if it meant riding on my father's fame."
"Ehhh…I don't know if that counts…"
"Hikaru, we all want to play go," Akira's stare forced Hikaru to open his eyes completely from their lazily half-closed position. "You, me, Sai, Kuwabara-sensei, my father…everyone. We all want to get better—not only for ourselves, but against each other. We all want to be the one to reach the Hand of God. Even if it's completely unattainable, we want to get closer and closer…That is what it means to live as go players."
Akira walked up so that he was directly in front of Hikaru. He dipped his heads slightly, "I don't want to speak for Sai, nor judge his suffering. But it is true that he already gave up on his own life." Akira looked up again, and Hikaru felt as if something vulnerable within him—some emptiness he forgot about—was drawn out by Akira's gaze. "I think you have the right to live your life—and I'm sure that Sai, deep within him, knew that."
"And if he truly loved you—and I think you know that he did—I'm sure he would want you to continue living from now on—not just for his dreams, but for your own, too."
Old man Kuwabara looked up from Weekly Go to puff a ring of smoke at his companion's face. Ogata waved it off with annoyance.
"Hahaha," Kuwabara laughed with his chins up. "For a youngster, you could afford to be less uptight."
"Che. I won't lose to you, old man," Ogata pushed his bottom lip to the side to take a puff of smoke.
Kuwabara smiled. Ogata-kun reminded him of the new wave of youngster—especially that Shindou kid—with their zeal to take titles from the old veterans. But of course, he wouldn't hand over the title that easily. "Did you see? Shindou and Touya are having a match next week. Do you want to make another bet?"
"Oh?" Ogata glanced at the old man. "Sounds like fun. Who are you betting on?"
"The Shindou kid, of course," Kuwabara grinned. "My sixth sense tells me he's a special one. And you wouldn't want to bet against one of Touya's, right?"
"Heh, of course not. I'll bet on Touya—a son of Touya Koyo won't lose," Ogata said, but looked the other way. He wanted to bet on Shindou, too—although they are pretty evenly matched, so it's not like betting on Touya isn't a good option. He was just annoyed that Kuwabara was so good at goading him.
"Hey, Ogata-kun," Kuwabara turned to look pensively up at the darkening sky outside. The sun had set, and the moon was starting to become visible. "Did you hear about 'Master'—the internet Go sensation who beat top-ranked players all of the world a few months ago? The one that everyone thought was Sai reincarnated, but turned out to be Google's AI AlphaGo?"
Ogata huffed. "Of course. I've played against it myself." In fact, he had played the AI program three times and lost all three. "I'm surprised you know about it, old man."
Kuwabara laughed. "That's just like you, Ogata-kun. But you know, if technology can surpass thousands of years of human pursuit—if it can reach the Hand of God with pure algorithms and none of the culture behind it—what do you think all our efforts are for?"
Ogata paused and blew out a circle of smoke towards the ceiling. "Maybe nothing, I suppose. Or maybe it's different for everyone."
The reporter called out from behind them, "Kuwabara-sensei! Ogata-sensei! Can we meet you in the interview room in a few minutes?"
"We'll be there in a few minutes!" Kuwabara called out, and started walking down the hall, but slowed to wait for the younger player. "Ogata-kun, you were saying?"
Ogata caught up to Kuwabara, and walked beside him. "Well, for some, it's all for the fame and glory and pride, for the desire to be better than your opponents. For others, it's for the act of striving and struggling and self-improvement." He slowed down, and crushed the last of his cigarette in the ash tray on top of the trash can. "Still for others," he continued, with a sideways glance at Kuwabara, "It's all for fun and entertainment, a way to pass the time and entertain themselves by pissing other people off."
"Good answer," Kuwabara chuckled and completely ignored Ogata's pointed look. "I think you're finally getting somewhere, Ogata-kun."
"Che, I don't need you to patronize me, old man," Ogata said, and started walking ahead.
Kuwabara laughed and continued walking at his own pace, following Ogata down the hall. "It's all selfish and full of desire, isn't it? It's not a peaceful path," he said quietly, to no one in particular. "That is the true spirit of go—to reach the divine not through enlightenment and throwing away desires, but by pursuing those desires themselves, no matter where they lead us."
Ogata was waiting for him by the elevator. "What did you say, old man?"
"Haha, just that you youngsters keep the game fun for me," Kuwabara grinned mischievously at the taller player. He opened one eye. "But of course, I won't let you get my title that easily."
"I won't lose to you," Ogata said impatiently, and met the old man's gaze.
The door closed with a ding, and the elevator ascended.